August 24, 2017

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) �� Boosted by a new contract some observers never thought Ferrari would give him, Kimi Raikkonen remains confident he can still win races and even another world title.

After Ferrari confirmed his seat for 2018 this week, he spoke defiantly on Thursday of his renewed ambition to deliver success.

"If I didn't feel that I can go fast, I wouldn't be here," Raikkonen said at the Belgian Grand Prix. "As long as I feel that I can win races and fight for championships ... if I didn't feel that, I will be the first guy to do something else."

Even though the 37-year-old Finnish driver has not won since the opening race of the 2013 season, apparent Ferrari team orders aimed at favoring teammate Sebastian Vettel prevented Raikkonen sealing victories at Monaco and Hungary this season.

He has four podium finishes, including the last two races. His performance in Hungary, a masterclass of defensive driving under pressure to fend off the Mercedes cars of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, likely secured the new deal.

He protected Vettel and Ferrari secured a 1-2 finish, helping Vettel extend his championship lead over Hamilton in the standings to 14 points.

Just weeks ago, Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne was critical of Raikkonen, saying after the Austrian GP he was driving like a "laggard" and needed to up his performance. Ferrari is battling Mercedes for the drivers' and the constructors' championships, with Ferrari trailing Mercedes by 39 points after 11 races.

Raikkonen delivered Ferrari's previous driver championship during his first spell in 2007. Ferrari's last constructors' title followed a year later.

Many observers tipped Raikkonen to be replaced next year, given his age and Marchionne's comments.

Raikkonen, who is notoriously soft-spoken and often seems indifferent to questions, was typically evasive when asked why he got a vote of confidence.

"The team feels the same way," he said. "What are the reasons? You have to go and ask them."

With speculation over Vettel's future growing, given that the German driver has yet to sign a new deal, Raikkonen hopes he stays next year.

"We work very well together. But obviously I'm not the guy who decides," Raikkonen said. "Hopefully it all stays as it is now and that will be perfect."

Four of Raikkonen's 20 career wins have come at the Spa circuit nestled in the dense Belgian forest of Ardennes, putting him level-third on the all-time list.

But he has not won a race here since 2009, which is also the last time Ferrari won here.

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